June 30, 1997 12:00 PM

Animated, with voices by Tate Donovan, James Woods, Danny DeVito

A few years back, a friend of mine blew a gasket one really steamy summer day when his wife, an eminently sensible woman, bought their 3-year-old son a pair of sandals. “You’ll turn him into a sissy,” the unreconstructed father bellowed. But that was before Hercules. This summer, thanks to Disney’s brawny animated feature about the pectorally prominent hero of Greek mythology, little boys everywhere will be proudly wiggling their little piggies in Air Herc sandals.

Hercules, at least as depicted in this jokey, hipster version, was the Michael Jordan of his day. After he saved Thebes from a monster or two, everyone wanted to be like Here. The muscleman’s name and image get emblazoned on sports drinks, action figures, sandals and even a Buns of Bronze workout scroll. But, as Hercules’s father, Zeus, counsels him, “being famous isn’t the same as being a true hero.”

In charting Hercules’s rise to true herodom, the movie displays style and sass even as it travels the well-worn Disney path. Translation: Expect Hercules to sing a song (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by David Zippel) about how lonely and misunderstood he feels, and expect to see a cast of impish, wisecracking sidekicks. Purists will rightly complain that the movie bowdlerizes the actual Hercules myth, legitimizing his birth, giving him a new major nemesis, and leaving the impression at movie’s end that he and his tart-tongued girlfriend Meg will live happily ever after. But, hey, who wants to be the one to tell the kids that Hercules, during a mad spell, later murdered his wife, Megara, and their offspring? (G)

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